August, 17th 2007

Netroots as cannibals

– Liz Mair

The WSJ has a great piece up today about the Netroots setting out to devour moderate Democrats.

The piece picks up on a theme that I touched on earlier this year in a column at The New York Sun. But WSJ brings us up-to-date on just how ready to take out moderates the base of the Democratic party has become.

If the liberal blogging phenomenon deserves to be known for anything, it is the strategy to intimidate or silence anyone who disagrees with its own out-of-the-mainstream views. That muzzling has been on full display in recent weeks as Mr. Moulitsas and fellow online speech police have launched a campaign against the centrist Democratic Leadership Council. DLC Chairman Harold Ford, Jr. was even thwacked last week for daring to speak to this editorial page (my sincere apologies, Mr. Ford)--the clear goal to discourage him from making such a free-speech mistake again.

Yet a lively midweek chat with Mr. Cuellar suggests that this campaign of threats isn't necessarily having the intended effect. If anything, it might be backfiring. "They win when they intimidate people," says Mr. Cuellar. "I've taken everything they've thrown, plus their kitchen sink, and I still stand proud as a moderate-conservative Democrat." He says his triumph over blogger fire has only strengthened his conviction that his party will only win elections if it continues to be a "big tent" open to all views. "To make that tent smaller, to force people--not to persuade, but to force, because these are threats--to quiet down, that's destructive in the long term and the short term."

Mr. Cuellar's 2006 victory may be the truest proof of those words. While many of the Democrats' toughest races were fought in conservative-leaning districts, Mr. Cuellar hails from the 28th, a Democratic area near San Antonio, home to many border towns and a significant Hispanic population. Liberal bloggers may have thought they'd have an easy time turning the Texan into an example of what happens to "traitors" to their cause. They mounted a spendy campaign behind the more liberal Ciro Rodriguez, who'd only lost by 203 votes to Mr. Cuellar in 2004.

Instead, Democrats, Independents and even Republicans rallied around the incumbent, who had impressed them with his support for the Central America Free Trade Agreement, his push to reform the public-school system and his pro-business stance. This time, Mr. Cuellar beat Mr. Rodriguez in the primary 53% to 41%, and then went on to get 68% of the general-election vote. "They poured out negative ads and hundreds of thousands of dollars, but in the end I knew my district a lot better than they did."

I have watched in recent weeks as the Kossacks have gone out of their way to attack the DLC-- which, if they were paying attention, they would identify as representative of the only wing of the Democratic party that has had real, clear success in, say, the last 30 years (in the form of the Clinton presidency). In some ways, I think the moderate-bashing has been even more vicious than what we've seen in the GOP where, say conservative activists and the Club for Growth have been involved. If nothing else, the Dems have got going on their moderate-bashing, when it comes to congressional types as opposed to presidential candidates very, very early, which is a sign of more viciousness to come, if you ask me.

But the interesting thing is, as the WSJ (and Cuellar, where he is quoted) points out, the Netroots attacking of moderate Dems is bound to have a double-negative effect. First of all, moderates start to feel less at home in the party (something we in the GOP, who have a longer history of moderate-bashing have definitely seen)-- so moderates abandon it (could this explain the stories I've been coming across about registration numbers for Democrats and Republicans declining?). Second of all, the person "under siege" often earns a victory in part as the result of not being seen as an ideologue.

Netroots watch out. Party purification can be a dangerous thing-- and Joe Lieberman and Henry Cuellar's cases should tell you that.


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